Monday, 23 July 2018

Everyone shows a genuine interest in how I’m getting on and I feel like I’m part of The Christie family

Ruth Naylor, Christie patient


On 22nd August 2017, I went to see my GP having felt generally under-the-weather for a few weeks. Fluey, sweaty at night, absolutely knackered. With two small children, a crazy busy life and a new business venture my symptoms were nothing particularly unusual however, my doctor sent me for some routine blood tests and a chest X-ray, “just to rule anything major out”. Thank goodness she did.

Within 48 hours, I’d been diagnosed with Lymphoma, cancer of the blood and told the devastating news that I had a dinner-plate sized tumour in my chest. I was on my own when the registrar broke the news to me (thinking I simply had a chest infection) and it’s true what they say, the world stopped turning. The words “you have cancer” really are the most heart-stopping, gut-wrenching words. Ten years ago, my mum went from her cancer diagnosis to death in just five weeks. This thought has crossed my mind a thousand times each day, along with how my two young children would manage without their mum.

Due to the aggressive nature of the cancer, I was transferred to The Christie within a week and whilst I’d heard a lot about The Christie and it’s amazing work, I had no idea what to expect. I met with Professor John Radford and the lymphoma team on the haematology ward, including my specialist clinical nurse, Sarah. That first meeting was tough but everyone I came across was exceptionally kind, from the ladies on the reception desk to the nurses taking my blood. It was as if everyone was on my side from the start. Nothing was too much trouble. The details of treatment were discussed; I’m told we were looking at 6 months of fortnightly chemotherapy, potentially radiotherapy and if necessary, a bone marrow transplant. The worst news of all? I would also lose all of my hair.

Following biopsies, more blood tests and a PET scan, I had only a week to wait before chemotherapy started. In this time, Sarah made herself available to me, whenever I needed her to answer every sensible or ridiculous question I had. Knowing that hair loss for a woman has a  huge psychological impact, Sarah encouraged me to visit The Christie wig shop as soon as I felt able, to start preparing myself for the inevitable. In every dealing I had with the team at The Christie, I was left feeling safe, secure and in doubt whatsoever that I was in the very best hands. The ladies in the Information Centre took the time to chat me through the various support groups which are available to me and introduced me to the Maggie’s Centre for any practical and emotional support I might need. Everywhere I turned, there was someone to hold my hand and guide me through.

The day of my first chemotherapy was nerve-wracking and highly emotional. With no idea how, or if, I would respond to the treatment, I entered the haematology ward and was immediately greeted by Claire, my nurse for the day. She put me at ease, explained as many times as I needed her to, what the process would be and how I may feel after each chemotherapy drug. I was in and out within six hours and headed home to wait for the side effects to kick in. Once again, Sarah checked in with me each day that week to see how I was feeling and if the team could do anything more for me.

That first round was 3 months ago and every other Friday I’ve been following the same process. I arrive at The Christie for 9am to be greeted by Joanne whilst I’m waiting for my blood tests. I then meet my consulting team for a catch-up and review of how I’m getting on and make my way to Ward 26 for my chemotherapy. All the nurses know my name, everyone shows a genuine interest in how I’m getting on and there’s a real sense of teamwork. I feel like I’m part of The Christie family and I know many people feel the same. For a place which could be full of fear and sadness, there’s an incredibly uplifting vibe throughout.

In May 2018, after numerous scans, I finally received the news every cancer patient wants to hear. I got my “all clear”! The last 10 months have been a gruelling and emotionally testing process but I feel privileged to have had my life-saving treatment at The Christie. I’m incredibly lucky to have this specialist cancer hospital near to where I live and for anyone who may be facing a war with cancer, there really is no better place to fight your battle. I will be at having regular check-ups at The Christie for the next five years as until that point passes, I cannot be declared as “cured” but I now intended to live my life to the full, to enjoy it as much as I can, and will always be indebted to the great work of my oncology team in this hospital.